I love creative retreats. It’s a time when I can escape from the nagging responsibilities of daily life and immerse myself in the creativity of some genre. In July I rejoined the Fishtrap experience, but this time instead of being in the remote grandeur of the Zumwalt Prairie like last summer, I attended the summer Fishtrap Gathering of Writers for five days at the Wallowa Lake Lodge. Wallowa Lake is nestled at the foot of the rugged, snow-capped Wallowa Mountains in Eastern Oregon, an eight hour drive frome my home in the Willamette Valley.
What is Fishtrap? Founded 35 years ago by forward-thinking writers Kim Stafford, Rich Wandschneider, and historian, Alvin Josephy this organization was created to provide support, connection, and education to West Coast writers
From their website “ Every July, readers, writers, journalists, historians, publishers, and lovers of the arts from all over the world gather at Wallowa Lake to write, to explore issues important to people of the West, and to make connections. The weeklong conference has provided hundreds of writers the opportunity to work with some of the best authors and teachers in the West including Ursula K. LeGuin, Luis Alberto Urrea, Bill Kittredge, Laura Pritchett, Anis Mojgani, Kathleen Dean Moore, and many, many others”.
We returned from four days at Paradise Campground, a favorite camping spot in old growth forest on the McKenzie River here in Oregon last week. It was our first visit since a devastating wildfire swept the area in the summer of 2020. This was one of our favorite camping and kayaking spots. We were devastated when it burned. The fire destroyed thousands of acres of forest taking a multitude of homes and businesses with it. Thankfully, the upper McKenzie where we would be camping was spared.
We’ve had a bit of a heatwave here in Oregon this past July. Temps hovered in the high 90s to 100 degrees for over a week. Even though I had AC installed in the house as a result of the catastrophic heat dome a year ago in June, Raymond and I were feeling a bit housebound. For a reprieve from the heat we headed out to Netarts Bay on the coast to kayak for the day.
Coincidentally, also seeking the bay’s refuge was a population of brown pelicans who were aerial feeding- quite a sight. Watching them was the highlight of my day. This poem came to me shortly thereafter.
Much of my time is spent with facinations that perhaps lead to nowhere. I doodle. I make art most of which is unshown and not for sale. I play music with no performing or recording aspirations, write and don’t submit the vast majority of my pieces for publication. My blog is not monetized. This is so counter to our culture’s obsession with productivity and success- but they all make me happy.
Today I read a post by Austin Kleon riding 5 miles to mail some letters rather than mail them from home because it “was something to do.” On a link embedded in this post was another post titled the same, “Something to Do.” I found this post so profound. It put into words what I have been unable to to do trying to justify my gratutious pastimes. In short, they keep me alive. To me that’s the ultimate payoff.
Heather collapsed face first on the gravel. Her purple-tinged hair spread out like the wind blew it wild, The tattoo of a Volkswagen bus over a lotus on her left arm faced the sky. Jerald, her husband heard her fall as she hit the side of the Volkswagen bus where they sleep while they build their house on the Big Island of Hawaii. He rushed her to the local hospital where they drained a quart of fluid from her heart before flying her to the hospital intensive care unit in Honolulu. If he had not heard her fall she would have died on the spot.
After two weeks in the ICU on high flow oxygen, a lung biopsy, and MRIs came the diagnosis, stage 4 cancer of the heart and lungs. They found after a barrage of tests, a tumor in her heart, cancerous polyps throughout her lungs, and cancerous lesions in her brain, and on her spine. Previously Heather had been complaining of difficulty breathing and was on her second course of antibiotics before collapsing. Her doctor wrongly assumed it was just severe bronchitis. With aggressive chemotherapy, oxygen support, and gamma knife radiation her outcome is uncertain- a few months or a year or two? There are no answers as this type of cancer is extremely rare, especially in a 38-year-old woman. This is my husband’s daughter- my stepdaughter. He was sitting 6 hours a day by her bedside in her hospital room.
This morning on the way to the Portland airport my husband turned to me and said “I can’t do this.” He was about ready to catch a flight to Honolulu, Hawaii to be with his daughter that was just been diagnosed with stage 4 heart and lung cancer, a very rare occurrence. Heather, a non-smoker, at age 38 was in the prime of her life. She and her husband were building their dream on property in the highlands of the Big Island when she collapsed after dealing with what her doctor thought was a severe case of bronchitis. Her husband rushed her to the hospital. Now, she cannot leave the hospital in Honolulu as she needs oxygen to survive.
I replied to him- “yes you can. “Be a bulldog, don’t run away. Go head-on.”
“This isn’t about what you can deal with, it’s about supporting her to get through this whatever the outcome with your full love and support. She chose chemotherapy. Be fully there for her.”
I’ve had some experience with this. My darling newborn son, Gareth, contracted a life-threatening infection at 10 days old. I kept hoping to wake up from that nightmare. I didn’t. My beautiful baby was full of tubes. His little body was all swollen, hair shaved off one side of his head. Worse, we couldn’t hold him.
We were told such things as:
If he makes it, he will be brain damaged or live in a hospital for the rest of his life
Kids don’t live through this
You will need a LARGE miracle
I fully embraced option 3. They allowed me to live at the hospital while he was in the NICU. My husband at the time had a hard time dealing with the situation at all. Meanwhile, I pumped breast milk at 3-hour intervals round the clock so he could have my breast milk when he once again could eat. I rose in the middle of the night to sing and talk to him. I prayed.
Ultimately my actions saved me. Did they help save him? Well, Gareth just celebrated his 35th birthday and he is as awesome as ever! (FYI, his name in Gaelic means strength).
We want to run from these situations since it is not only painful to see the ones we love suffer, we are frightened of our own mortality.
(The following is a memoir piece I’ve been working on off and on for several years about my family’s annual camping trips to Yosemite in the late 1950s and 1960s)
In August, my middle class family packed up our ’56 Chevy Bel Air red and white station wagon and left our suburban L.A. home to camp among the cool pines of the Yosemite Valley. We left in the wee hours of the morning to avoid driving in the oppressive Central Valley heat. My older brother, Steve, and I would occupy the “way back,” converted into a bed with layers of soft quilts. This functioned as our sleeping and play area. Seat belts were not even thought of back then. There was no digital world in the late 1950s and early 1960s so upon awakening we would occupy ourselves by reading our stash of comic books and Mad Magazines. We would play endless card games of War. When we were tired of that we would sing folk songs in lively two-part harmony, our parents joining in on “I’ve been working on the Railroad, Suwanee River, Clementine, or our favorite, “the Titanic ”.
I was on an amble on Franklin Street in Astoria, Oregon last weekend when I came upon this remarkable rock wall below a Victorian home. Little pink flowers were growing from the cracks of the stones of the wall. Had I been in a rush, I would have failed to notice this striking little art gallery. Here are a few examples of natures hand on a city side street.
in cracks of cold stone
Last week I had the honor of reading my prose piece, “TheOrchard by My House is Gone” at the book release celebration of Paper Gardens the annual literary journal of Yamhill County, Oregon. I was joined by other local authors that had their work published along with family members and members of the community. The most memorable part of the evening was when adults shared the stage with writers of all ages including those as young as second grade. We were all writers in different stages of our journeys who took the risk to submit our work to be judged and perhaps rejected.
A close friend asked to see my entry and I emailed it to her. She read it and then responded that how much she appreciated me sharing my work with her. Doing so gave her a window into my life and how I view the world. She remarked in her email that a long-ago friend was a painter but would not allow anyone else to view her work and that “would potentially impact the way she felt about her art.” I also have an acquaintance that ceased painting her stunning watercolors as she never sold them at the one event where she exhibited. Paintings are especially challenging to sell as it’s not only if a person likes the piece, it has to fit and match one’s décor.
I find both these situations very sad. We are always under the scrutiny of others- the way we think, dress, or otherwise live our lives. I don’t make art for economic gain anymore. What is imperative is that my creativity provides a spark to my life, joy in the process of its creation, and serves as an avenue for self-expression. There lies the attitude of non-attachment. There will be some that don’t care for what I write or create, yet there will be others who resonate with it. It’s not a deal-breaker as I am out to please myself. It is the nature of bringing creation to the world to see. If I am pleased with my work and it is well-executed, that is enough. It’s like hiking. I go out and have a beautiful day among nature and if I see wildlife, so much the better.
Who doesn’t love flowers? There seems to be even more of a special place in people’s hearts for the wildflowers found in nature. Here in Oregon it is prime wildflower season. Some are even blooming currently in my new native plant garden. Especially prevalent right now are camas (Camas quamash), beautiful blue-violet spikes of star-like flowers that pop up in the meadows. They were a significant food source for the Native Americans that once inhabited the area
About 40 minutes away from my home in the town of West LInn a new Nature Conservancy site opened up last year, the Camassia Nature Preserve. The 22 acre parcel is a mix of lush forest, meadows, and oak savannah with a boardwalk that meanders the main route. There is about 2 miles of hiking trails in the area. Also prevalent are glacial erratics- boulders from Montana and Canada that were dropped in this area after the great floods that occurred after the melting of the ice sheets that covered the north during the Ice Age.
Yesterday the weather was lovely, partly sunny and in the 60s, a welcome change from the rain and cool temperatures. I decided to take a drive and check it out. I was not disappointed!
Here are some of the things I saw in this special place.
A bit of wildflower trivia…
The reason you may often see the dazzling combination of bright yellow and purple wildflowers together is that it attracts pollinators- and humans seeking beauty.
And…my photos really don’t do this place justice!
Looked what bloomed today!
a wild Iris
a queen amidst my garden
her lilac petals arch gracefully
like arms in a curtsy
about her throat a white collar
etched with fine black lines
with a blush of gold
Gaudy hybrids shout for my attention
down the driveway
but it's her sublime elegance
that captures my wild heart